Annual town meeting season on Martha’s Vineyard wraps up next week in Aquinnah. On Wednesday, May 11, voters go to the polls between noon and 7 pm in old town hall to elect town officers. In the only contest, Macey Dunbar and Gary Haley will square off to fill the seat formerly held by Spencer Booker, who did not seek re-election to the three-member board of selectmen.
As in recent years, the election takes place against the backdrop of the continuing legal battle between the town and the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) over the limits of tribal sovereignty as outlined in the Settlement Act. The tribe faces a Sept. 1 deadline to complete its long-unfinished community center or repay federal grants totaling $1.1 million.
At the same time, the tribe is appealing a ruling by U.S. District Court Judge F. Dennis Saylor IV that the tribe cannot turn the building into a gambling facility.
Mr. Booker, a member of the Wampanoag tribe who lives with his family in tribal housing, was a steadfast opponent of the tribe’s efforts to engage in gaming in Aquinnah. Ms. Dunbar and Mr. Haley are not members of the tribe.
Gary J. Haley is a master electrician by trade and a member of the Gay Head Lighthouse Advisory Board. He has lived and worked in Aquinnah for 25 years after arriving in 1990. “I knew that this was the place for me to live and work because it was quiet, less stressful, and the locals in Aquinnah — Gay Head then — were very friendly and hospitable,” he said. “So I moved here from the Boston area and removed myself from the traffic, noise, and congestion of the city to a small town with natural beauty and beaches that are the world’s best.”
Macey Dunbar traces her roots to Vineyard Haven. Raised in a Navy family, she spent time in Newport, R.I., and the home of her grandmother, Betty Tobin of Hines Point. She moved to the Island in the early ’90s, and worked as a certified nursing assistant at Martha’s Vineyard Hospital to take care of her grandmother. She has been living on and off the Island, primarily in Aquinnah, ever since.
“For work, I do whatever it takes to get by,” she said. She also founded and is the director of Headers for the Light Ltd., a nonprofit established to provide educational tours and fundraising in support of the Gay Head Lighthouse.
This week, The Times asked each candidate why he or she is running for office, their position on gaming, and what issues the next selectman is likely to face. Their emailed responses are reproduced below, edited slightly for style and conciseness.
Why do you want to serve on the board of selectmen?
Ms. Dunbar: I am running because I was raised on the Island to do my civic duty. I now have the time to give back to our special town. Imbued with nature, the old “Island ways” and tribal traditions — the Island’s wild beauty, way of life, and wonderful people inspire me to do my part.
I want to build community, by creating an open dialogue between the town government and residents. This way everyone who lives in Aquinnah can be made aware of the issues that impact them and be encouraged to input their ideas and concerns. No taxation without representation.
As a selectman, I will follow up with and research the major issues that face Aquinnah/Gay Head from year to year, focusing on hearing from and talking with everyone involved with pivotal issues.
Mr. Haley: Spencer Booker told me in January that his term on the board of selectmen was up and that he would not seek re-election to another term. I had thought about running for selectmen over the years so, with his suggestion and backing, I figured this was the time to do it. I had attended some of the selectmen’s meetings at town hall, and had watched them on MVTV, and knew the issues. I’m a fair person, one who can listen to all sides and make decisions with the issues at hand. I decided to run for the selectman’s seat because I can help Aquinnah keep moving in the right direction and help preserve the town’s character.
The Wampanoag Tribe has tested the limits of the Settlement Agreement by attempting to create a boutique casino in the tribe’s unused community center. What is your view of the agreement and tribal attempts to bring gaming to Aquinnah?
Ms. Dunbar: I respect the tribe’s rights. I understand and appreciate the tribe’s need to provide jobs and income. Yes, we do need more local jobs and small business opportunities, but I don’t believe a casino is the answer.
Thanks to the foresight/wisdom of the AGHCA, and tribal and town leadership at the time of the settlement, for supporting the wishes of many of the townspeople by curtailing the possibility of future gambling.
Mr. Haley: This is a tough one, but the answer to the gaming issue in Aquinnah is that it is not a good idea, and I’m against any kind of casino here. I base this on my many conversations with people here in town. Many residents, including local tribal members, are not for any kind of gambling building or casino of any type. It seems to me that people here are against casino gaming 99 to 1. When the possibility of a casino in Aquinnah is mentioned in a conversation it is met with a definite “no way” by all in attendance. I believe the increase in traffic to our town and traffic-related problems would overload our small police, fire, and ambulance services.
What issues do you think town leaders will need to confront in the future?
Ms. Dunbar: In the long term, a major concern is how do we keep our tax rate low enough to help our young people and families to own homes, which builds our community. How do we support our aging population and people on fixed incomes to afford to stay in their houses without raising taxes, or overdevelopment?
Mr. Haley: With respect to future issues that the town will confront, the No. 1 topic is always taxes and property tax increases. How much the town needs in dollars each year to operate is the cause. Each year our costs go up due to increases in the education budget and emergency services, personnel, and equipment. These are cost factors that are out of our control. Thus, property tax bill increases over the past few years have been double or triple what they were just a short time ago. This is always the biggest issue in town. I’ll fight to hold down tax increases.